Republican superintendent candidates discuss consolidation

Published 8:00 am Saturday, January 13, 2024

The consolidation of the county’s two high schools has been a longstanding issue in the district. Chambers County School Superintendent Casey Chambley said they hope to open the new school for the 2026-2027 school year. 

District Judge Keith Watkins ruled in July that the Valley site was approved for the consolidated high school but ordered that LaFayette High School stay on its campus during the construction instead of consolidating to Valley High School.

The superintendent primary election is on March 5. Incumbent Chambley is running in the Republican primary against challenger Sharon Weldon, a teacher and former administrator of Chambers County School District. Both spoke on the consolidation and the future of the county’s high school. 

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Opelika educator Winford Ashmore is running unopposed in the Democratic primary and will face off against Chambley or Weldon in November’s general election. This story is focused on the Republican primary, so that voters can get to know those candidates better in the lead up to the primary election. 

 

Reflecting on consolidation so far

When asked to reflect on the process, Chambley said he wished he could have found a way to communicate better with the community, although the school system held many community meetings. Ultimately, he said he and the school board chose the option that would have the best outcome out of the options they were given. 

“We felt like we made the decision that would impact the schools and impact the most kids in the best way and in a quick way,” Chambley said. 

Weldon said that as a public school system, they should determine how to equitably support students who have a greater need, not just what’s most convenient to the majority.

“I know that you can’t just open it up and have an open, raise your hand vote, but I’m concerned about how much of our voice is really being heard,” Weldon said. 

With the new high school being built in Valley, Weldon said she anticipates greater ongoing expenses. She said longer bus routes will create a transportation burden on students, and she worries that students will be less engaged in afterschool activities.

While working at the central office, she noticed that most students who failed to graduate on time were not in any extracurricular activities, like sports, band or art. 

How to create unity moving forward

Chambley likened the current situation to a house remodeling project: that it’s uncomfortable during this phase of the construction but that people will be satisfied with the end result. He said once the schools consolidate, it will be easier for the county to unite in a new building with the same programs and resources.

“Once we get through that, I think that everybody’s going to see the benefits of it because the benefits are going to outweigh so much when the kids are all on one campus,” Chambley said.

If elected, Weldon said that moving forward her focus will be on making people feel that their voice has been heard. She will also focus on finding a way to blend the two cultures at Valley and LaFayette High Schools, such as the two marching bands.

“Never ever, ever should it be that they walk into that school and they feel like they’ve walked into the new Valley High or the new LaFayette High,” Weldon said. “It’s got to be blended.”

Consolidation of staff

A general concern in the consolidation process has been on what staffing will look like at the new school. Chambley has said throughout the process that no one will lose their job due to consolidation. However, over the next two years, he knows some staffing issues may take care of themselves via attrition or retirement. Many individuals may choose to move on from the school district while others may be able to work together. 

He also noted that consolidation may create some new jobs. 

“We’ve not had enough participation and enough coaches, to have a girls and boys [soccer coach] so that but now that gives you the opportunity to do that,” Chambley said, using those positions as an example. 

Weldon said she hopes to create a plan that will make sure they find the right fit for each role and that the staff helps bring the community together. She said it’s important for both student bodies to have familiarity in the staff at the new school.

Consistency of the elected superintendent

Change in any community can cause pain. Chambley said the next steps in consolidation will be about letting things settle down so that the community can heal. He said having continuity in the superintendent position and school district overall would help make that happen. 

Weldon said a change in the superintendent position shouldn’t have a big impact because the school should be a reflection of Chambers County. 

“[The school’s] stamp shouldn’t be the reflection of a superintendent,” Weldon said. “It needs to be the reflection of our community and the people in our community, and the culture of our community.”